What we’ve done
Here are a few of the big names we’re allowed to tell you we work with (and there are quite a few we’re not).
How do you change the way 6,000 people write?
Five years ago, what was once British Telecom set us a challenge: help change the language of thousands of people in danger of still sounding like a government department, to that of a modern – even human – global IT business. So they’ve had the full monty: training for 6,000 people worldwide; a squadron of champions; award-winning email ‘nudges’ to keep them at it; even emergency rewriting. And our programme’s still going strong, transforming linguistically challenged corners of the business, and racking up cost savings in the millions.
A professional services firm
Can you make smart people straightforward?
A couple of years ago, this firm rebranded to stand out from the crowd. But they realised that in a business where a report is often the product, they needed to write differently if the change was really going to make a difference to their clients. Since then, we’ve worked with them to define how they should sound, to train (intelligent, challenging, sceptical) accountants and auditors on six continents how to do it, and to think about how proposals can win more work, and reports can be more useful to clients.
How do you stand out when everyone sounds the same?
Blue. Bubbles. O2’s look has always been distinctive. But in 2007, they needed the words to match. Back then, every other mobile phone network was chatting away, trying to sound like they were your best friend. So we got O2 to stand out by keeping quiet: to say more by saying less. Since then, we’ve written hundreds of thousands of their words and trained more than 2,000 of their people. We’ve named everything from tariffs to tourist attractions and created an international naming system. And now we’re helping O2 sound like O2 in four different languages in five different markets. ‘Quietly does it’ never made such a racket.
How do you use language to shape your culture?
Straightforward. Insightful. Measured. That was our first impression of how people work at the Financial Ombudsman Service. So we helped them reflect that in their writing. As they say, ‘our product is our words’ – it’s all their customers have to go on when they come to the service for help. We’ve been helping their people understand that, even though their work matters hugely and can be complicated, formal language isn’t really them – and it doesn’t help their customers either. We’ve helped define a tone of voice to make written words as helpful as the people behind them.
Can one tone of voice work for six brands?
Lucozade rebranded. Visually they looked great, but they needed a tone of voice; one that worked across their parent brand, all their drinks brands ... and any other brand they might invent in future. Each one had to sound distinctive, but still feel part of the same family. We shut ourselves away, learnt the difference between isotonic and hypotonic, came up with a ‘secret formula’ for writing, and ran writing workshops to show people how to use it. We wrote some new packaging too, so our words are on the Lucozade Sport and Sport Lite bottles in every corner shop in the country.
A retail bank
Can you tackle a million words in three months?
That’s what a retail bank asked us when they came to us with stacks of their in-branch literature – all of it, in fact. They’d made a big promise to their customers: to make all their communications simpler. And they needed our help. Within days we assembled a crack team of 12 writers and editors, headed by one main creative brain to make sure the quality was top-notch, from the first document to the two hundredth. And our account manager kept it all ticking along without breaking a sweat. At the end of the project, both the client and their independent auditors agreed it was a huge success.
What does ‘Zizzifying’ mean?
Zizzi know what their brand is about. They’ve got a great internal culture and they care about producing quality food. The problem was that stuff wasn’t coming through in their writing. We went in to run a writing workshop to help them put some Zizzi zing into their words: to ‘Zizzify’ their language. From there we wrote their spring menu and helped make their words as tempting as their food.
A private bank
Can you have one voice in two languages?
A private bank asked us to figure out what their writing should sound like in both French and English. With unlimited personal liability for their investment decisions, they can honestly say that they look after their clients’ money like it’s their own. But their great message was getting stifled by formal French, corporate English and the weight of their long history. For inspiration, we looked at the words of other luxury brands, from couture houses to five-star hotels. Then our team of French and English consultants worked side by side to come up with a writing style that both fitted with their heritage and worked in both languages.
BT Global Services
How do you simplify hundreds of products into six?
Like most big tech companies, BT Global Services had a huge portfolio of disparately named products and services that were confusing to customers and salespeople alike. Seeing an opportunity to boldly go where none of their competitors had gone before, they gave us a simple brief: ‘Make us famous for a few, big things’. So out went the iVPN2, SIP Trunking and NGCC, and in came a simple set of six product families like BT Connect, BT Contact and BT One. To help tell the story, each family got its own supporting line like ‘Networks that think’.
O2 on Twitter
How do you get ‘unheard of’ engagement on Twitter?
O2 asked us to create the world’s first ‘Choose your own adventure’ story on Twitter, where clicking hashtags would take you through the plot. We wrote interlocking stories that built to 17 endings (imagine the maths). People loved it. The average Twitter engagement rate (based on the number of replies and retweets a tweet gets) is 1–3 per cent. Ours came out at a stonking 117 per cent, which means loads of people played through the story more than once. Twitter’s sales director Bruce Daisley described that number as ‘unheard of’. And the campaign was seen nearly eight million times in one day. And we won ‘Best digital content solution for consumers’ at the 2012 CMA Awards.
How can you keep people on-side, and hit your targets?
HR is much maligned. A function so desperate to be credible in the boardroom, it often sounds less human than the rest of the business. Yet HR should be at the heart of any business, and should understand more than most the benefits of communicating like normal, genuine human beings. We’ve worked with several clients to rewrite policies and procedures; to train HR specialists in more effective writing; and to help attract the right people in the first place. And we’ve watched as measures like engagement scores have soared, just by getting the language right.
Which words matter most to your customers?
For some organisations, the people who write the most are their customer service teams: that can be hundreds of people, sending out millions of letters and emails a year, often under the watchful eye of an industry regulator. We’ve trained whole departments of customer service advisors to write more effectively (as well as passing the skills on to their in-house trainers, so they can make their new-found skills ‘business as usual’ once we’ve gone). We’ve also licked into shape lots of the other things that can affect a letter: templates, standard paragraphs, quality monitoring scorecards, and more.
How do you design a dual language brand book?
Mavic (part of the Amer Sports Group), are a leading company in the cycling industry. They came to us to write their brand book, where they’d put all their brand pyramids, visions and values. But what we convinced them they needed was a book of stories instead (and they had lots to tell), each one illustrating something different about their brand. We did it in both English and French, and designed the book too. They handed it out at the top of Mount Semnoz (part of the Tour De France route) after Mavic’s annual summer bike ride to the summit.
How do you sum up a 140-year old brand in 104 words?
Vaseline is one of the world’s most recognised brands, going all the way back to the original ‘wonder jelly’ discovered by chemist Robert Chesebrough in 1870. More than 140 years, several product lines and various campaigns later, the team at Vaseline wanted to go back to the brand’s roots to recapture what made it special in the first place. So we got the Vaseline team and their agencies together in a room in New York City, where we spent a day helping them first to decide what they wanted to say, and then how to say it in a way that would inspire people. No brand onions or infographics, just a simple 104-word story that captured the spirit of this iconic brand. By helping the team tell the story themselves, rather than going away and doing it for them, we were able to get it done and signed off in record time. The story has given the brand a new focus, and a unique vocabulary that’s making its way into campaigns around the world and onto packs on a shelf near you.
Can you whet appetites and not over-egg the pudding?
Booths is a northern supermarket chain that’s run by the same family that founded it in 1847. They were struggling to get their personality down on paper. They weren’t ‘friendly foodies’. But la-di-dah luxury wasn’t quite them either. So we helped them find their voice, and launched it by writing their Christmas book. It’s full of simple stories and rock-solid content, with lots of pace and rhythm from full stops and white space. There are no copywriting clichés or chatty asides. No subjective adjectives like ‘delicious’. And none of the other default techniques of appetite-tickling food writing. In a sector where most people bubble over, now their writing gently simmers. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.